Air Costa today flew only one aircraft, its Embraer E190 registered VT-LVR. VT-LNR, the lone Embraer E170 in Air Costa’s fleet operated its last commercial flight yesterday. Sistership VT-LSR was flown to Lisbon and returned to the lessor on 22nd November.
The E170 will be tomorrow (28th November) be flown to Jordan’s capital, Ammam, as its lease comes to an end.
Today, Air Costa operated only 8 flights: MAA-AMD-BLR-JAI-BLR-HYD-BLR-AMD-MAA, resulting in the cancellation of 28 flights.
The airline was supposed to have resumed operations of its other E190, VT-LBR, today (27th November). However, the aircraft is on its return from Jordan at the time of writing this. VT-LBR is flying into Bengaluru, from where it will operate a non-commercial ferry to Chennai early next morning, from where it will operate scheduled flights.
From tomorrow (28th November) onwards, Air Costa is expected to operate 16 flights a day, with 2 Embraer E190s. The MAA-HYD-VTZ-BLR-VTZ-HYD-MAA-JAI-MAA pattern, which was suspended since 16th November, will be resumed.
With the return of the E170, flights to Coimbatore, Tirupati and Vijayawada remain suspended till 4th December.
The airline’s website reflects flights on the VGA-BLR-CJB-HYD-VGA-HYD-TIR-HYD-CJB-BLR-VGA pattern available from 5th December. This pattern will be operated by the Embraer E190, suggesting that the E190s are expected by the 5th of December.
However, the 4th pattern for the E190s could not be determined.
The airline may perhaps not be able to secure its pan-India AOP until the 5th Embraer E190 is inducted into its fleet.
Air Costa’s flight cancellations in the month of November has been very high, and may have the highest cancellation rate among all airlines for the month.
Air Costa, India’s first regional jet airline, turns 2 tomorrow (15th October 2015). The airline, which is the second airline in India after the now defunct Paramount Airways to operate the Embraer E170s, is terminating lease on the aircraft, making Air Costa perhaps the last Indian operator to employ the 70-80 seat regional jet.
The airline’s two Embraer E170s, registered VT-LSR & VT-LNR, were the first two airplanes for the airline, leased from Embraer’s ECC leasing. The aircraft earlier flew for Gulf Air, which had fitted the cabin with 67 seats : 7 business and 60 economy. The aircraft can pack in a maximum of 78 seats in a single class configuration.
The airline has cancelled up to 4 flights owing to one of the two E170s (VT-LSR) being returned in November. As of today, out of the 32 daily flights the airline used to operate to 9 destinations, it presently operates 25-26 flights. This is further expected to go down to around 15 – 16 flights per day in the next 10 days. When two new Embraer E190s are inducted, the airline will resume the flights previously operated by the E170s starting 1st Dec 2015.
Due to this, Air Costa does not seem to sell for, and operate certain E170 sectors between 25th Oct and 30th Nov (as per the website), till these are operated by the replacement aircraft, an Embraer E190, 1st Dec onwards. These sectors are captured in the table on the left. The airline has opened sales for these sectors for travel December 1st onward.
The airline does not seem to sell (indefinitely, as per the website) the E170 sectors operated by the other aircraft. These include:
Vijayawada <> Hyderabad
Vijayawada <> Chennai
Vijayawada <> Vishakapatnam
Chennai <> Hyderabad (Daily)
Frequencies on routes such as Bengaluru<>Vijayawada has halved.
Air Costa’s two other aircraft – Embraer E190s registered VT-LBR & VT-LVR, leased from GECAS, shall remain in the fleet, one of which would be going for a scheduled maintenance in mid-November. The Embraer E190 is a money maker for the airline, and Air Costa is using the asset to its strength. The 2 E170s will be replaced with 2 E190s in the next 3 months.
Based on studies by The Flying Engineer, small capacity regional jets of less than 100 seats have limited relevance in the Indian market, today. A great way to capture the market is to complement the Airbus A320 / Boeing 737s (180 seat airplanes) with an aircraft of nearly 50% – 60% capacity, making the Embraer E190 with 114 seats (maximum) an ideal airplane for routes with insufficient demand for a 180 seat airplane.
Air Costa will be able to connect Tier II and Tier III cities across the country with any Tier I city once its air operator permit (AOP) is converted from a scheduled southern regional airline to a scheduled (pan-India) airline operator permit. This change of AOP is expected to happen soon. However, the airline’s network will continue to be focused on the regional segment, but at a pan-India level.
With the airline demerging from other projects of the parent company, Air Costa is ready to attract external investments into the airline. It plans to induct 4 aircraft every year, from 2016. By 2018, the airline plans to have a minimum fleet of 12 aircraft and fly to 18 stations.
Air Costa presently operates to 9 destinations. A major network change is expected in light of the change in fleet. Bhubaneswar, Pune, Guwahati, Indore, Patna and Bhopal are expected to be added to the network when the fleet size touches 8.
Air Costa has cancelled a significant number of flights listed in its approved Summer Schedule. As a startup airline with a different model, it faces issues on many fronts: one of which is an insufficient number of sufficiently qualified pilots to fly its four airplanes: two Embraer E170s and two Embraer E190s.
The sectors affected are those that are operated by its smaller Embraer E170 aircraft-with a seating capacity of 67 each: Vijayawada <-> Hyderabad, Chennai <-> Madurai, Chennai <-> Vijayawada, Vijayawada <-> Vishakhapatnam, Chennai <-> Coimbatore, Coimbatore <-> Bangalore, Bangalore <-> Vijayawada, Bangalore <-> Hyderabad, and some of the Bangalore <-> Chennai and Hyderabad <-> Chennai flights.
The Embraer E170s fly the shorter, thinner southern routes, while the E190s fly the longer, and thicker routes northbound out of the southern region, to Ahmedabad and Jaipur, connecting these cities to Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Chennai. The E190s also fly between Chennai <->Hyderabad, and Chennai <-> Bangalore, and connect Vishakhapatnam to Bangalore and Hyderabad.
The E170s account for 22 flights a day, or 55% of the airline’s daily flights.
The airline is tackling the situation by phone-calling each and every affected customer, explaining the situation and offering a full refund, contrasting a situation in late 2011 when the DGCA had pulled up IndiGo, SpiceJet, and the then-operational Kingfisher Airlines for having allegedly cancelled flights without informing passengers. Although the airline seems to maintain a low key when it comes to publicity, this act seems to highlight the airline’s customer focus: something no airline can afford to ignore, especially at the start-up phase of an airline.
Customer focus and on time performance are key factors for many passengers when choosing between airlines that offer matching fares.
Air Costa’s commercial flight operations commenced on 14th October 2013, exactly 6 months ago. The start-up phase, and the fact that the airline is the only operator of the Embraer E170/E190 airplanes in India, makes this a very challenging period for the airline.
The Reason: Pilot Shortage
The airline presently has 22 pilots qualified to fly on the E170/E190 airplanes. Typically, an airline requires 10 pilots per aircraft, or 5 sets of crew per airplane. With 22 pilots, there are enough to fly just 2 aircraft, leaving the two other airplanes with no crew.
The airline has chosen to fly the E190 airplanes, as its utilization on its network is much higher: 14.5hrs a day, which is upto nearly 2.5hours more than the E170s. Besides, the E190 with 112 seats in an all-economy cabin has a lower operational cost per seat, when compared to the E170.
The airline had planned for a sufficient number of pilots to fly the routes in the summer schedule, starting 5th April 2014, but that plan didn’t materialize. 8 foreign commanders were supposed to have cleared the Foreign Aircrew Temporary Authorization (FATA) examination-an exam conducted by the Indian DGCA to ensure foreign pilots are up to speed with Indian regulations- at least 15 days before Air Costa was to have kicked off its full network under the Summer Schedule. However, the crew did not clear the examination, which is held fortnightly.
Another 21 pilots will be joining the airline in a week, of which are the 8 FATA licence holders. The other 13 type rated pilots are Indians, of which 7 are commanders and 6 first officers. Recently, the airline hired 40 commercial pilots with no previous airline experience. Ground classes for these pilots are in progress at Vijayawada, before they’re sent for their Embraer E170/190 type rating. The type rating program may very likely be conducted at Jordan.
Flights under the approved summer schedule are expected to commence shortly, once the 21 pilots are available.
Air Costa is finding it difficult to have a sufficient number of qualified flight deck crew who may remain on standby, and also faces a shortage of examiners, who are instrumental in the release of Indian commanders and first officers. The airline is the only operator of the Embraer E170/190 family of airplanes, while every Indian other airline flies Boeing 737NGs and Airbus A320 family airplanes, eliminating the possibility of poaching experienced and ready-to-fly-on-type pilots.
The airline plans to add another 3 Embraer E190 aircraft to the fleet, one each in the months of August, October and December. As the fleet and flight crew members grown in number, the airline is expected to be less affected by such operational issues.
Air Costa yesterday received the approval from the DCGA to fly the Embraer E190s. Air Costa is the first airline in the history of Indian aviation to operate Embraer E190s. The airline started operations in October 2013 with two Embraer E170s.
The two Embraer ERJ E190s, with manufacturer serial numbers 593 and 608, registered VT-LBR, VT-LVR respectively, were delivered to Air Costa towards the second half of December 2013, and are leased from GECAS. However, the approval to fly the E190s arrived only 3 months later, due to exhaustive DGCA paperwork, some of which related to getting the aircraft type approved in India. The airplanes have been parked at Hyderabad-Shamshabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International (ICAO: VOHS IATA: HYD).
The two Embraer E190s are expected to be deployed into commercial service in the first week of April, and will fly the longer routes in the approved summer schedule. Since the ERJ 190’s license endorsement, as recognized by the DGCA, is “EMB170”, and common with the ERJ 170, pilots in the airline can fly both aircraft variants.
The E190s will be based at Chennai, and will be deployed on the following sectors: Chennai-Ahmadabad, Ahmadabad-Bangalore, Bangalore-Jaipur, Jaipur-Hyderabad, Hyderabad-Chennai, Chennai-Bangalore, Bangalore-Vishakhapatnam, Vishakhapatnam – Hyderabad.
Each aircraft will start operations at 0600hrs IST, and fly till 2340hrs IST, accumulating a total of 29 block hours per day over 18 flights, representing 56% of the entire fleet’s utilization. The E190s will be utilized approximately 30% more than the E170.
The Embraer E190s are an all-economy four abreast-single aisle cabin, with 112 seats laid out over 28 rows, with a 29/30-inch seat pitch (some seats will have a comfortable pitch of 30 inches, while the others will have 29 inches). Each of the seats are as wide as 18.25 inches, armrest-armrest, which is a good 1.25inches wider (and more comfortable) than the seats on SpiceJet’s Boeing 737s, and IndiGo, GoAir and Air Asia India’s Airbus A320s, which are all 17 inches wide. In addition, there are no middle seats: only either window or aisle, making the overall experience very comfortable. This comfort will make the airline’s product a preferred one, among regional airlines, today.
The 112 seat E-190 has 62% the capacity of an Airbus A320, which the airline feels is the right capacity for the markets they serve today. Another 4 E190s are expected to join the fleet this year.
Air Costa has been flying the E-170s with load factors greater than 70%.